Adult attachment theory and attachment to place: exploring relationships between people and places

McBain, Kerry Anne (2010) Adult attachment theory and attachment to place: exploring relationships between people and places. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Abstract

First proposed by Bowlby in 1969, attachment theory was developed to conceptualise the universal human need to form close affectional bonds. According to Bowlby, infant attachment behaviour is regulated by an innate behavioural system, designed through natural selection to promote safety and survival. This is achieved by seeking and maintaining proximity to a caregiver. When attachment needs are fulfilled the infant is able to explore the environment, secure with the knowledge of the availability and responsiveness of the caregiver (Bowlby, 1969). In 1987, Hazen and Shaver demonstrated the ability of the theory to predict variations in the way that adults experience romantic love. Their study triggered a surge in research ultimately designed to measure the complexity and continuity of the attachment process across the life span.

Over the past three decades there has also been emerging interest in relation to the broad topic of place attachment. Research has indicated that the concept incorporates: strong emotional bonds to place; memories and other cognitive interpretations that provide meaning to the experience of place; and anxiety or concern associated with separation or removal from a particular place (Low & Altman, 1992). Although scientific investigation of interpersonal attachment theory and its environmental analogue, attachment to place, were being conducted simultaneously, researchers tended to overlook the prospect of a conjoint working model or the extension of the attachment behavioural system to examine core environmental relationships.

The primary goal of this thesis was to apply an interpersonal attachment model to place attachment. Four broad research questions were addressed, the first of which concerned links between place and interpersonal attachment. The second was to identify attachment style differences in the experience of childhood places and the current home. The third research question examined whether the bonds that we form with place can in fact be classified as attachment bonds, with characteristics similar to those that we form with people. The final research question focused on the composition and structure of the network of places in which people live, and how they relate to those places.The research was conducted across two studies, using a questionnaire battery which contained a combination of new and published, qualitative and quantitative measures.

The first study, using a sample of 99 undergraduate students (age 17- 55), investigated the relationship between interpersonal and place attachment and examined attachment style differences in the experience of place using favourite childhood places, the present home, and personal possessions as the primary objects of attachment. The results provided evidence of the predicted associations between interpersonal and place attachment styles, but failed to support an association between place and possession attachment. The study also illustrated both place and interpersonal attachment style differences in the experience of childhood places and current homes. Secure place and interpersonal attachment were associated with time spent with others and higher levels of positive affect, whereas insecure place and interpersonal attachment were associated with higher levels of negative affect, and the recall of negative memories of childhood places.

The second study, with a sample of 105 adults (age 18-79), examined the structure of the network of places in which people live and how they relate to those places and the network of people that they interact with. It also investigated place and interpersonal attachment, and personality style differences in the composition of those attachment networks and examined whether or not relationships with place can be classified as 'attachment bonds'. The results provided evidence of the predicted associations between interpersonal and place attachment styles, but failed to support an association with the Big Five personality traits. Relationships with several types of place were confirmed as attachment bonds based on the use of these places for a range of attachment functions (e.g. using the place as a safe haven and secure base; evidence of hypothetical sense of loss). Attachment style differences in the interaction between people and the places listed in their attachment network were also illustrated. Those who were securely attached to place valourised their current home whereas those who were insecurely attached valourised previous homes, leisure environments and holiday destinations.

Overall the current research suggests empirical support for the proposed theoretical links between interpersonal and place attachment. It also supports the proposition that our relationships with place are attachment bonds with similar characteristics to those identified for interpersonal attachment. Theoretical implications as well as future directions for research are outlined in relation to the findings.

Item ID: 19819
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: attachment theory, place attachment, attachment to place, possession attachment, attachment bonds, psychology of place
Date Deposited: 08 Feb 2012 06:32
FoR Codes: 17 PSYCHOLOGY AND COGNITIVE SCIENCES > 1701 Psychology > 170113 Social and Community Psychology @ 50%
17 PSYCHOLOGY AND COGNITIVE SCIENCES > 1701 Psychology > 170102 Developmental Psychology and Ageing @ 50%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970117 Expanding Knowledge in Psychology and Cognitive Sciences @ 100%
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